By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said that any attempt to repeal Common Core would become a dead letter in the Senate:
“I do not intend to address controversial legislation regarding these standards next session….The only way I see this issue coming before the Senate is if the Governor were to call a special session to address it,” Marsh said in a written statement.
Marsh may not be willing to tackle the issue of Common Core, but many Conservative are not going to sit by quietly as he supports what they see as one more intrusive Federal mandate.
“There is a huge groundswell of opposition to Common Core from parents, grandparents and even teachers,” said Becky Gerritson, President of the Wetumpka Tea Party.
Politicos around the state expressed bewilderment when Marsh let the repeal of Common Core die in the Senate in 2013.
Gerritson says that conservatives like the Tea Party are more determined to be heard in the 2014 session. “If our elected officials truly represent the people, then they will have no alternative than to support or at least bring up bills to repeal Common Core,” she said.
That Marsh would support the Obama Administration when it comes to the education of the State’s children, has left political consultants wondering if Marsh has become tone deaf, or worse, disloyal to party principles.
“Marsh is easily the wealthiest member of the Senate….He may be too busy dining on filet mignon to listen to the common sense of those who live on beans and taters,” said one Republican political consultant.
Freedom Works, a right-wing Conservative foundation says of Common Core:
“The ultimate goal of Common Core is to have every school district follow the same National standards. This is a failed educational approach that will undermine educational quality and choice. States and local communities better know how to design standards based on their students’ and parents’ needs, than Washington bureaucrats.”
This is firmly believed by many rank and file Republicans in Alabama and around the country.
According to the government website, “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
Geritson and other TEA party members have recently come under fire from some factions of the Republican party, because they dare speak their minds without regard to a particular party line. They have been met with great resistance because of the campaign to stop Common Core from being implemented in the State’s public schools. But the rejection of Common Core is supported by Bill Armistead, Chairman of the State Republican Party, as well as the National Party platform.
However, Common Core has been pushed with vigor by the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and the so-called “pro-business” Republicans, who have become the de-facto policy wing of the GOP House Caucus.
Some members of the ALGOP have become so angry over what they perceive as a Federal takeover of our schools that Mary Scott Hunter, a member of the Alabama Department of Education Executive Board, was censured for “dereliction of duty” because of her support of Common Core standards. Republican Senator Bill Holzclaw barely escaped censure from his own county party over his refusal to block Common Core.
Marsh, who stated last session, “We have a Supermajority, and can pass anything we want” has decided to stand against those who want to push back against the Obama Administration’s intrusion into Alabama schools, in favor of the agenda set by the BCA (Business Council of Alabama).
Many in the new crop of Republicans running in 2014 are speaking out loudly against Common Core Standards.
Recently, Amie Beth Shaver, who is running to replace Representative Mary Sue McClurkin, told the Rainy Day Patriots that she opposes Common Core and that is “just the tip of the iceberg” of what the Federal government wants to do with our schools.
Dr. Stan Cooke, a Republican seeking to replace Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, said, “We must determine to be eternally vigilant to fight against the unconstitutional U.S. Department of Education, to defeat policies such as Common Core, so that our local educators can educate our children based on our community standards.”
Republican Jamey Clements, a candidate for House District 62, recently expressed opposition to Common Core, as did Matt Fridy, who is also running for the District 73 House seat.
With so many Republicans opposing Common Core, why is Marsh so dead-set against the measure?
“Marsh is first and foremost a businessman. He is going to take the side of business,” said the GOP political consultant. “Marsh is in lock-step with Billy Canary and the BCA.”
During last year’s battle over Common Core, BCA head Billy Canary said, “These standards are vital in preparing students to compete in the 21st century global workforce, which requires highly skilled workers. Adoption of SB403 and HB565 would be a giant step backward, based on a false premise that Alabama and local school systems would lose control over their curriculum. While some will continue a campaign of fear on this issue, we will continue to stand united in the business, education and military communities in offering our children the hope of a bright future, regardless of the zip code they live in.”
“In privacy of their little club they laugh at these folks who want to repeal Common Core,” said the consultant. “But seldom do they challenge them openly because they need their votes. This is a bad move for Marsh politically, but it shows whose camp he is in.”
“This is an election year. And we know they will do everything they can to avoid the issue…But, we will hold their feet to the fire.”
Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.
Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”
The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.
Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.
“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”
Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.
“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”
Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.
The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”
Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.
“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”
District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.
“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”
District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
New unemployment claims decreased last week
Fewer people joined the unemployment rolls last week compared to the week before.
There were 7,964 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 8,581 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17, there were 4,032 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 51 percent, compared to 36 percent the previous week.
Trump to visit Pensacola tonight
Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy.
Neither presidential candidate is likely to visit Alabama before the general election, as both campaigns accept that Alabama will be certainly in President Donald Trump’s camp on election day no matter what else happens. While Alabama is not a swing state, Georgia and Florida are both in play, and both campaigns are devoting enormous resources there.
Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy. Trump will be just across the Florida-Alabama state line visiting Pensacola and is scheduled to address supporters at the ST Engineering hangar beginning at 7 p.m. CT.
The doors open at 4 p.m. and the event begins at 7:00 p.m.
The president’s rally tonight comes right after a visit to Pensacola last week by Second Lady Karen Pence and is one of many Florida campaign events planned for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump arrived in Florida after Thursday’s final presidential debate with Joe Biden. He is scheduled to hold a campaign event in The Villages before traveling to Pensacola. The president will spend the night at his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago and will vote early Saturday.
The vice president will hold rallies in Lakeland and Tallahassee on Saturday. Florida has 27 electoral college votes. It would be very difficult for Trump to get the 270 electoral college votes necessary to win without winning Florida.
Democrats warn that attending a Trump rally could be dangerous due to the coronavirus threat.
“The last thing Floridians need is for Donald Trump to host more potential superspreader rallies across our state,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement on the rally in Pensacola. “What we do need, however, is a president capable of putting Floridians ahead of his own self-interest and get this pandemic under control.”
Most recent polls have Trump trailing Biden in Florida. Tickets are required to attend the rally.